When the news regarding Ghislaine Maxwell was recently made public, it was far too rich to not publish some commentary of our own. The reader will not be left surprised at the general message we wish to convey, given that the article’s exemplar exhibited technological prowess no greater than that of a kindergarten level. It is, therefore, with great pleasure that we introduce a simple manual for how not to evade FBI surveillance.
British socialite and recent FBI hide-and-seek contestant Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested last week after the FBI stormed the New Hampshire residence where she was hiding. Maxwell was sought by the FBI for her alleged role in procuring and sexually trafficking underage girls for her late convicted sex offender associate Jeffrey Epstein. She reportedly attempted to minimize electronic eavesdropping by wrapping her cell phone in tin foil.
Now, for those readers seeking to avoid federal incarceration, we offer no luck or counsel. Instead, we advise you to contact your local Field Office or other U.S. Marshals’ location at your earliest convenience. Such selflessness will save taxpayer dollars and begin your inevitable arrest. However, for those inclined to embrace a legitimate privacy-oriented lifestyle, we do have a few thoughts on the matter of mobile devices and privacy.
Let us be clear: cell phones are a privacy and digital security nightmare. We’ve covered this extensively in the past and published a Digital Security Guide addressing some of the risks and best practices to mitigate them. Thankfully, phones and other mobile devices do offer amazing capabilities and convenience, which helps offset some of the inherent privacy risks they present.
It should go without saying, however, that if one is playing hide-go-seek or does not wish to be discovered, tracked, monitored, or otherwise have their privacy infringed, maintaining a mobile device at all is suboptimal. Further, although the classic tin foil hat offers a number of decided fashion benefits and conversation starters in social circles, it absolutely offers nothing more than the illusion of security against radio frequency waves. Sadly, it appears tin foil remains a tool mostly useful for its intended purposes: baking, keeping things (including heads) warm, and causing problems when microwaved.
Now, obviously Ms. Maxwell suffers from greater problems than toddler-level awareness of technology. Regardless, her genius move with the tin foil was clearly an ill-wrought attempt at a do-it-yourself Faraday cage. However misguided, Ms. Maxwell was attempting to block the transmission and reception of radiofrequency signals required for data and cellular service function. And as Forbes identifies in its coverage of this escapade, tin foil may have created some measure of interference, but not enough to actually prevent the device’s transmitter and receivers from properly functioning—especially when layered with other forms of tactical FBI surveillance (physical, geospatial, and presumably, electronic).
Should one have a need to attempt to avoid the unlawful geolocation of a cellular device (say, from a private detective or bounty hunter hired by a dubious character that harbors unjustified ill will against you), it is advised to keep your device in airplane mode and only rely on shorter-range WiFi if you absolutely must use your device. Even then, the function of WiFi (and similar standards like Bluetooth) does not prevent a knowledgeable actor from lawfully locating your device. Enter Ms. Maxwell’s friend the Faraday cage.
SOFREP has previously discussed various commercially available Faraday bags. Unlike the homemade tin foil variety, products from companies like Silent Pocket undergo extensive testing and actually do serve their primary function of blocking all signals. Does placing one’s device in airplane mode do the trick? For most people, it certainly does. Theoretically, it disables all cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth radios in the device, making it “safe” according to applicable standards (FCC or FAA, perhaps). However, for the truly
paranoid aware, it may be useful to ensure that no matter what, and beyond any shadow of a doubt, one’s device is physically (electronically) incapable of transmitting or receiving wireless signals.
Such are the times we live in, when the most advanced GPS, cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth tracking technologies are either worn or carried by the majority of populations around the world. For most, the benefits far outweigh the privacy and digital security costs. We are inclined to agree with this sentiment.
Remember: Tin foil belongs on your head, not on your phone.
Thanks for listening.